Next Monday is the deadline for applications to the Department of Agriculture's revamped AEOS. Payment rates remain the same as last year's scheme, although the maximum annual payment has been reduced to €4,000 a year.
The rates quoted here are annual payments paid for five full calendar years. The same options remain, except traditional orchards are omitted because of a shortage of traditional apple trees.
There are some major changes apart from the new maximum limit. There are limits to the extent of most options undertaken. There is also a requirement to take soil samples and all fencing must comply with Department fencing specifications.
Only land that has not been cultivated in the past eight years is eligible for a species-rich grassland and traditional hay meadow. Payment is €314/ha. The maximum area allowed is 10ha of each. Both may be claimed on Natura land instead of the Natura payment of €75/ha.
Species-rich grassland must contain at least five 'positive' indicator species, such as those pictured above. It must not have more than 20pc of the 'negative' indicator species, such as ryegrass and clover. No artificial fertiliser, slurry, farmyard manure or other organic material can be applied and it may not be topped until after July 15.
Mechanical control or spot-treatment with herbicide of noxious weeds and rushes is allowed.
Nitrogen is restricted to 30kg/ha on meadows. They must be closed after April 1, cut after July 15 and the aftermath may be grazed. Where hay cannot be saved, you can make silage but you must turn it at least twice before collecting it, to let the seeds disperse.
Suppliers of tree and hedgerow plants must be registered by the Horticulture and Plant Health Division of the Department. Planting must be done before the end of March 2012 using native species.
Standard trees are at least two metres in height with a stem circumference of 6-10cm. The number of trees planted must be 10-25. They must be spaced at least 6m apart and cannot be planted in new hedgerows. Alternatively, 25-50 younger and smaller whips can be planted 3m apart. Payment is €12.54/standard tree/year, while it is €1.90/whip/year.
A minimum, continuous length of 30m of new hedgerow qualifies for annual payments at a rate of €8.90/m, provided the hedge being claimed on is 30-200m in length. There must be six plants per metre in a double staggered row.
Hedgerow coppicing and laying are carried out between September 1 and March 1 and 15-1,000m of laid hedgerow will qualify for payment. The minimum for coppicing is 30m and the maximum is 1,500m. In each full calendar year of your contract, you must coppice 20-25pc of the total length undertaken. Payment is €1/m for coppicing and €1.60/m for laying.
Whether choosing to maintain riparian, grassland or arable margins, all three must be maintained in good agricultural and environmental conditions. They can be chosen along the full side of one or more fields. Payment is on a linear metre. Grassland field margin habitats involve fencing a margin 2.5m from any boundary up to a maximum of 1,500m. It can be mowed or lightly grazed at least once a year after August 15.
Arable margins can be established by natural regeneration or the establishment of a rough grass margin. You must maintain a 3m arable margin.
Riparian margins involve fencing off a section of 3-30.5m from a watercourse that is shown on an ordnance survey map. Payment ranges from 80c/m to €3.36/m.
Wild bird cover pays €869/ha. There are a few significant changes that will make this more popular. A maximum of 3ha can be grown. It is now allowed on tillage farms, as is the option of slurry spreading using band-spreading, injection systems and trailing shoe, which pays a premium of €0.77/m3 of slurry spread compared to the splash-plate method. It was hoped to allow the green cover payment of €80/ha to be rotated but this is not now allowed. Minimum tillage pays €23/ha. A minimum of 4ha of green cover and minimum tillage must be undertaken, but there is no maximum.
Farmers not allowing livestock to drink from watercourses can claim €200 for each water trough for up to 10 troughs. Traditional dry stone wall maintenance is now limited to 4,000m, paying 50c/m with no minimum requirement. The option to conserve animal genetic resources pays €200/LU, up to a maximum of 10 and with no minimum.
Catherine Keena is a Teagasc countryside management specialist